Paul Fonoroff is an expert on Chinese cinema and author of the new book Chinese Movie Magazines 1921–1951.
Ruan Lingyu, Zheng Junli, Wang Naidong, Wang Moqiu,
Inspired by the real-life suicide of actress Ai Xia, New Women pointedly addresses the struggles of China’s urban “new women” to survive independently; tragically, its tale of a talented woman hounded by gossip into suicide was mirrored by the death of its lead actress, the legendary Ruan Lingyu, who would kill herself only months after the film’s release. Ruan plays a strong-willed music teacher and single mother whose dreams of becoming an author (with a novel fittingly titled The Tomb of Love) are dashed. The film’s bleakness is shocking for its time and still eye-opening today.